Revamp Social Spending Priorities


  • 23 February, 2011
  • Jawed Alam Khan

Scheduled castes (SCs) and scheduled tribes (STs) have historically been among the most disadvantaged sections of our society, given their socio-economic exploitation and isolation. They have remained neglected in the planning and implementation of development interventions of the Union and state governments. Although the 11th Five-Year Plan inculcated the slogan of “inclusive growth”, with a special focus on the development of SCs and STs, they continue to lag behind in nearly every aspect of development.

In the 1970s, the Planning Commission introduced specific strategies for channelling Plan funds for the development of SCs and STs, in accordance with the proportion of SCs and STs in the total population (that is, 16% and 8%, respectively, at the national level, as of 2001); these planning strategies are known as the Scheduled Caste Sub Plan (SCSP) and the Tribal Sub Plan (TSP).

SCSP and TSP aimed to ensure direct “policy-driven” benefits for SCs and STs through specific interventions as opposed to the earlier approach of relying solely upon “incidental” benefits flowing to them from various interventions by the government. Even after three decades since these strategies were introduced, a scrutiny of the budgetary resources earmarked for SCs and STs raises serious concerns. Civil society organizations such as the Centre for Budget and Governance Accountability (CBGA) and the National Campaign on Dalit Human Rights (NCDHR) have drawn attention to the major gaps in implementation of SCSP and TSP in the Union government even during the 11th Plan period.

The strategies of SCSP and TSP require the Union government to ensure that out of its total Plan budget (excluding the block grants made to states and Union territories for Plan spending), at least 16% is earmarked for the development of SCs and at least 8% is earmarked for the development of STs. The magnitudes of Plan allocations earmarked for SCs and STs, as reported in the expenditure document (statement 21) of the Union budget, are at much lower levels of 7.2% and 4.3%, respectively, in the 2010-11 budget estimates. We may note here that statement 21 includes those schemes in which at least 20% of the funds or benefits are earmarked for SCs or STs. The schemes with 100% funds meant for SCs or STs are reported in part A of the statement, while the remaining schemes (that is, those with at least 20% funds, but not the entire amount of funds, earmarked for SCs or STs) are reported in part B of the statement. In both the parts, the magnitudes of funds earmarked for SCs or STs are also reported along with the respective schemes.

Statement 21 in the Union budget does not segregate the funds earmarked for SCs and those for STs separately, which is problematic, especially in part B of this statement. Hence, with regard to the schemes in part B, we assume that two-thirds of total funds earmarked are for SCs and the remaining one-third for STs.
However, a closer analysis reveals that the figures pertaining to Plan allocations earmarked for SCs and STs by various ministries and departments, which have been reported in statement 21 in the Union budget, seem to have included large amounts of “notional allocations” (that is, figures of fund allocation or expenditure that cannot be verified). This is because an in-depth scrutiny of the “detailed demands for grants”, which are the most detailed budget books, of all Union ministries reveals much smaller budgetary allocations earmarked for SCs and STs.
The amounts booked under various budget heads in the “detailed demands for grants” of the ministries, which are clearly shown as meant for SCs or STs, add up to a meagre 1.3% of the total Plan budget for SCs and 1.2% of the total plan budget for STs.

Statement 21 of Union Budget 2010-11 shows that out of the more than 50 ministries, only 17 report outlays earmarked for SCs or STs. Of these 17 ministries, only a few show any sizeable budget allocations for SCs or STs; these are: the social justice and empowerment, tribal affairs, rural development, women and child development, human resource development, and health and family welfare ministries. Thus, out of the total budgetary allocations earmarked for SCs or STs (according to statement 21), a large chunk is meant for basic social services and employment generation programmes with little emphasis towards financing their long-term development and empowerment. However, a scrutiny of the “detailed demand for grants” shows that in 2010-11, only six ministries have earmarked budgetary allocation for SCs or STs, which are the ministries of social justice and empowerment, tribal affairs, labour and employment, home affairs (for Union territories without legislature), and micro, small and medium enterprises.

The Union Budget 2011-12 would reveal both the “perspective” and the “sense of urgency” of the government towards addressing the major gaps in thhe implementation of SCSP and TSP.
Graphic by Sandeep Bhatnagar/Mint

The author is a research officer at the Centre for Budget Governance and Accountability.
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